Slurping sounds followed in sequence, with the persistent pattern of three unaligned metronomes. Feet and hooves fell upon the soggy mud, and freed themselves in a noisy chorus. The squaks of a passing fleet of fowl broke the ambiance, and brought the knight to self-awareness. Unforgiving stone pressed into his lower back, rolled up his spine and nudged his head aside. His right arm brushed against the half-buried boulder. Out of instinct, he tried to lay his hands upon the strange object, but it was past his reach. His legs were tight against each other, hanging in the air, and absorbing perpetual jerks of force. From within his helm, he read the scrolling displays which informed him of his health. There was no problems with his blood pressure. He concluded that he wasn’t bleeding. Automatic sensors detected nothing awful. He hadn’t loosened his bowels. An internal scan found no bone fragments. He hadn’t shattered his spine. His helmet was telling him that he was fine, but that seemed contrary to his impression. He couldn’t move his legs apart. Had my armor jammed? He made an effort to move his arms, and was successful. His back muscles could also flex. Am I paralyzed? He flexed his toes and felt them press against the inside of his boots. What could be wrong? Then he noticed a slight oddity on his interior display. His suit registered him moving four kilometers per hour. His gloves grasped the sides of his helmet, opened his visor, and tilted his head towards his legs. He saw the rope that had bound him. The knight was being dragged in the wake of an antlered beast, as a thinly clothed woman in a wide, square hat prodded the animal along.
The clinks of his movements were heard by both beast and maid, who turned to see him offering a casual salute. Expressing no care to the prisoner in tow, she gave the animal a crisp wack on its right side with a thin, naked branch and continued on her way. The knight spoke a greeting in his warmest tone, and commented on the beauty of the day. Either she was cold and impersonal, or she couldn’t comprehend his words. He pulled himself by his legs into a sitting position, bumping along the path. With one hand on the rope, and his other bracing against the passing ground, he hollered ahead with pleasant words, and asked that she let him walk. This time he wasn’t even acknowledged, so the knight lay back down, placed his hands behind his head, and watched the clouds roll away. He pondered what he would do with his second life. Where he might find adventure, and entertainment. Where he was being taken hardly mattered. The woman had been farming in the flooded fields, so he was certain there would be food. He hadn’t spotted any smoke or modern dwellings from the sky, and assumed they would be traveling for some time. The time on his back grew tedious and tiresome, so he politely asked again for his release. Without a response, the woman waved her stick back and struck the soles of his boots. At that insult, the knight took control of the situation. He pulled himself up, grasped taught strand of rope and squeezed it within his grip. His metal fingers shred through the fibers instantly and his feet plopped into the mud. The beast noticed and skipped ahead a little faster, free from his massive drag. The woman quickened her steps, to keep up with it. He slid his fingers between his feet, and flicked the flimsy strands apart.
On his feet, he could properly judge the pull of the planet. It was weaker than the kingdom in orbit, and empowered his movements. He gave a shout ahead to the woman, thanking her for bringing him so far, and began to walk away backwards. She stopped, hearing his sounds, and turned back, looking rather stunned to see him free and mobile. She spoke to her beast, and it understood her commands. It stopped, and peddled it’s hooves in the mud, while she marched with frustrated vigor towards the knight. As she passed the pieces of rope, she bent with a fluid dip and snatched them up. Her eyes were shaded under her hat, but the knight could see a mouth of black and yellow grinding teeth. She froze, lifted her gaze, pinned her hat to her head, and made a crazed dash back to her beast. She vaulted on to its back, screaming her words mid-jump. The animal panicked in a similar manner and bolted, turning right, and trampling through a flooded field. He watched them race for the other side, where an autumn forest climbed a hillside. She looked back, but not to him. Past him. He swiveled about and saw six riders in pursuit of her. Four others were growing on him, and farther off, a host of fifteen mounted soldiers marched a troupe of forty chained captives, both men and women.
He stood his ground, with his hands upon his hips. He had a theory on their intent, but he waited to hear what he had to say. They said nothing, only kicked their mounts into speed. Two of the riders raised wide clubs, and the other two lowered tipped lances. They must have never seen a knight before. A lanced rider was the first to him. He stretched out his right arm, opened his hand, and placed one foot behind him to brace against the impact. He tracked the point of the weapon, and met it against the center of his palm. The wood split after the shock followed up the beam and unhorsed the man. The other lance bobbed down toward his thigh, and the knight only had to pivot slightly to put himself between it and the horse. His shoulder met the beast’s and it stumbled to the ground, flipping it’s arse to fall its rider. A club wielding rider pulled his horse to a stop. The other pressed left, leaned right, and took a swing. The blunt thud against the his raised armor, was felt more in the riders hand, than the knight’s arm. The knight reached up with his free hand, and clutched a tuft of chest hair as the rider tried to pass. He held on to the man, as the horse continued alone. The unmounted rider’s feet kicked free in the air as the knight decided which of his staggering companions he would be thrown at. The crack of breaking bone sounded out as the man was projected into a fleeing, unarmed lancer. The last mounted rider, began a charge. The knight found a splinter of wood underfoot, placed it in hand while he bent under the attacking swing. He hands came together, pressed into the hardened wood, and parted it into two. One sidearm whip sent a shard into the last unmounted man. The other shard he held high in his left arm, showing it as the rider wheeled about for another charge. His right hand stretched out again, showing his palm. It was a gesture that meant ‘stop’ in the kingdom. Down here, it didn’t seem to convey the same message. He began to run backwards while facing the approaching assault, trying to bring his speed to a close match. When the rider was a body away, the knight flicked the shard like a dart. It knocked the man back in his saddle, and his body, limp, spilled into the mud. As the man fell off, he was replaced, to the great discomfort of the horse. Five bodies lay in the mud, four dead men and one crippled beast. Two horses wandered in the fields, whining under stress and fear. He surveyed the scenes beyond and thought that his first day was going to get even busier.
Five of the six riders in pursuit of the woman were heading his way, while the sixth led her beast and carried her bound back to the other fifteen. He respected their discipline. In the kingdom, he had heard stories of the survivors. They were described as cravens, who fled in terror after seeing knights fight. These riders may not have watched him combat their brothers, but they surely could see their corpses. Yet they came, strong and with clear purpose. Perhaps they were of a higher rank or skill, confident they would not fall the same way. The knight never got a chance to ask.
Combat was the most natural expression he knew. Physical combat, not that other kind involving words and ruses. He was once told that long ago, before the kingdom flew, before the planet shook, even before the surface glowed, man was like the beasts. They were savage, and used their teeth to kill. His brother-in-arms Darrel teased him, saying he had too much old blood. He would say it with anger whenever he had been beaten bloody in practice, and he would say it with love after they fought together. It was that old blood that pumped the thoughts away. It was that old blood that fulled his intuition.
The five riders formed a wedge and met him in the midst of a flooded field. At the point of the formation, a rider wearing an ornate chestplate couched two spears, one under each arm. His forehead had a wide blue streak crossing from temple to temple. The two riders flanking him drew steel blades, and let them hand by their sides. The exterior riders had the same wide, flat clubs. They weren’t a cluster of slavers. These were trained enforcers. The center spears left their symmetry, one raising to the knight’s level, and the other dropping to his horse’s. He means to kill their own mount. The knight pressed himself up. His boots were out of the stirrups, and placed on the mount’s lower back. The leader of the wedge saw this change, and raised his high spear even higher, however it was too late. The knight had kicked himself off the beast and soared sideways into the right wing. His knees, bent and pointed, met the early bladed rider’s chest and face, compacting both. His arms pounced out and snared the sleeve and leg of the outer rider. He heard a squeal of agony come from the mount he had leapt from, and saw it struggle in the water. He had landed upon the second man, and his force buried him in the muddy bottom of the pool. The three remaining men were returning, and spreading apart to encircle him. He plunged his hand into the knee-high water, skimming for the drowned man’s club. He came up with the crushed man’s sword. The knight wasn’t fond of swords. The few times he found himself defeated in practice were when his opponents used swords. The metal in his hand now was so much softer than the kingdom’s steel. He grabbed the blade at hilt and tip, and folded it against his thigh, then bent it tighter against his shin. He would rather have a hook than a sword.
The first rider to engage again tried to strike from behind. He held a blade. It was caught in the curve of the knight’s weapon and stripped from the rider’s arm, along with the rider’s hand. The soldier grunted and retreated, as the two others came from both sides. The club rider screamed some indecipherable cry, calling the knight’s attention. His roar ended with a squeak, when a gauntlet met his throat. The leader had buried one of his spears in his first charge, and held his remaining one with both hands. His stab was straight and steady. It caught the knight between the shoulders. It couldn’t pierce his plate, but it did knock him down with a splash. When he rose back up a moment later, he watched the rider leave towards his company. Hungry to repay the pain, he sprinted after the soldier. His old blood spurred him on, and he bounded out of the field, landing on the cratered path. The knight sunk into the mud as he landed each step and kicked clumps ahead of him. His approach must have been terrifying because all seventeen remaining riders abandoned their prisoners and fled away. As he came upon where the chained herd was left, he was watched in silence. Pity took a hold of him, and he quit his chase to free the folk of their bonds. The woman who once wore the wide, square hat lay upon her antlered beast, unconscious.